Though far from extinct, the Costa Rican pothole is definitely on the endangered list. Their numbers are down from the millions to a few thousand and their habitat has been severely reduced by “progress.”
If you’ve ever spent any time in Costa Rica you’re probably asking yourself “yeah, so what? What kind of nut would miss potholes? That’s like lamenting the loss of small pox.” but we have our reasons.
Even as recently as ten years ago there wasn’t a road in Costa Rica where potholes didn’t keep the average speed down to 40 kph (25 mph) and many places it was even slower. On bicycles it was heaven. we could travel as fast or, due to superior swerving ability and narrow track, often faster than the cars, trucks and buses. We bike toured around Costa Rica for five weeks on our honeymoon in 1993 and never gave a thought to being pancaked by a 100 kph semi or bus. Of course there were a couple of spots we avoided, like cerro de la Muerte and downtown San José (where it wasn’t so much an issue of speed as the bumping and grinding of stalled traffic) but basically we could find a route anywhere we wanted to go in the country.
We returned for years riding over 4,500 km before we hung up our bikes in 1999. There are still great bike rides in Costa Rica, but it’s gotten very difficult to find a safe multi-day tour. The roads are still narrow, winding and shoulderless, but more and more often they’re also relatively pothole free. Even on minor two lane highways average speeds exceed 70 kph and of course the morons who want to go 90 can get away with it (until they hit a cow which aren’t endangered).
There are hundreds of kilometers of the rides we enjoyed that would simply be suicide now: Highway 21 from Liberia through Santa Cruz and Nicoya to Naranjo; the Guápiles highway to Limón; 35 up to Los Chiles, and most of 4 through Sarapiquí, San Miguel and Upala, all the way to La Cruz; the Costanera Sur from Orotina through Jaco, Manuel Antonio, Dominical and Uvita; and even the Pan American highway south from Palmar and north from Juntas.
So that’s why we’re a little nostalgic for potholes.